Sunday, July 30, 2017

Huevito, one of the stars of "Masters of Rhythm:

Our stars in Masters of Rhythm are such talented and charismatic people, I'm guessing you'd like to know more about them.  Huevito (Freddy Huevito Lobatón Beltrán), for example, was born in Lima, Peru's capitol - the youngest of eight children.  From the time he was a baby, he loved the cajón (cajón drum) and all of the music and dance of his Afro-Peruvian heritage.

Huevito in a pensive moment

When he was two years old, he would climb out of his cradle and sneak in to watch his father Mario Lobatón's performing group rehearse.  The group, Gente Morena de Pancho Fierro, was well-known and to Huevito's delight, they rehearsed in the family's living room.  He would sit on a cajón and watch, and then play the cajón himself during the breaks.

His father was known as one of the three or four best and most complete dancers of zapateo fancy footwork, an artwork that Huevito has since mastered.  In fact, Huevito has won so many prizes for his zapateo that now, he no longer completes and instead, often acts as judge in competitions.

Huevito's family is from the countryside to the south of Lima, in the coastal area.  Both parents were born in Chincha - his father from Hacienda San José and his mother from Regis (both towns close to el Carmen).  This area is one in which Afro-Peruvian culture is perhaps best preserved as a living tradition, and Huevito bears the stamp of a person steeped in his culture.

He began his professional career at age 11, although from the age of four, he used to perform in his father's group.  He, along with two of his older brothers, would get up and dance - especially zapateo!

About 12 years ago, Huevito was recruited by Gabriel Alegrías Afro-Peruvian Sextet, and he moved to New York to perform with them.  He lives in New Jersey and is the group's Afro-Peruvian soul, performing on the cajón, the cajita, the quijada de burro, and doing a bit of zapateo when the music calls for it.

playing cajón - Huevito in the center with Lalo Izquierdo (l) and Cotito (r)

Apart from his love of his culture and of rhythm in general, there is one thing Huevito wants the world to know about him:  about eight years ago, he kicked a serious drug habit and has never touched drugs since then.  He thinks it's important that other people who may have become involved in drugs know that it is possible to recover from this addiction.

And on that note, I say ¡olé! Huevito.  May you continue to give us those wonderful rhythms and continue to have a stellar career.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Pariarch (Mahana) - a drama by and about Maoris in New Zealand

The Pariarch (Mahana), directed by Lee Tamahori, is a great story about family tensions, the conflict between an aging patriarch who has up until the movie opens ruled his family with love but what you could call extreme firmness (or an iron fist), and the young upstart, one of his grandsons.

You might think that a story about Maoris is so far removed from what "everyone else" experiences, or a story about a strict and authoritarian family patriarch is so far removed from "modern life" as to have no appeal and no relevance to the present.  Watching this film, I would respectfully disagree and think if you go to see it, you will as well.

The movie opens with a chase between two rival branches of a family as they rush to be the first ones to arrive at the funeral of a deceased elder.  It is gripping.  The lead car of each side of the clan tries to shove the other off the road, a narrow road with an even narrower bridge up ahead.

I won't tell you any more except that the entire movie was tight, full of suspense, and moving.  There were two places in which it let down a little - I "knew" that "he'd" fall off of that roof, and it was unclear to me at the end exactly how the love story between the grandmother and her former finacé would end - but not only did I really like this movie, I think it successfully shows that human emotions, no matter what the social circumstances, if profoundly felt can translate easily to all of us.

The director, Lee Tamahori, part Maori himself, is a New Zealand filmmaker who, among other things, has a James Bond movie to his credit.  He certainly knows how to handle plot and actors!  (Since there are six people listed as stars, I won't include their names here.)

And no more movie reviews for a while.  I need to see more movies first!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil (documentary)

Another film that particularly caught my attention was the hour-long documentary, Yemanjá:  Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil (dir.:  Donna Carole Roberts).  Filmed primarily in the province of Bahia, Brazil (whose principal city is Salvador) it tells the story of candomblé, a religion with strong roots in the Afro-Brazilian or Afro-indigenous community.  Candomblé itself is a religion which has been handed down from the African ancestors of its adherents. 

English Promo from Donna Carole Roberts on Vimeo.

The film de-mystifies candomblé, a religion which to me at least seems clearly related to voodoo and santería.  Core values include most importantly a profound respect for nature.  The orishá Yamanjá herself, for example, (orishá meaning deity, spirit, or saint - depending on who you listen to) is particularly associated with the sea.

The documentary also identifies other of the orishá and their several attributes (there is an orishá of plants and leaves, for example), but more importantly, it talks about the religion's strong interest in general ecological concerns, and the role of women.

Women are at the head of this religion.  Older women are especially valued, and in the film, the oldest of them all is the appealing spiritual leader/priestess Mãe Filhinha de Yemanjá-Ogunté, 109 years old when she was interviewed.

Combining fascinating interviews with shots of celebrations, both public and private, Yemanjá also includes images of  beautiful locations including a striking one where we see life-sized statues of the orishá set in the shallows of a popular lake. 

Relevant to those interested in ecology and the role of women, as well as in the African diaspora and Brazil, the film also explains that, with its large following, the adherents to candomblé would like to have their religion put on the same footing as Catholicism, at least in the city of Salvador.  Time will tell whether or not their wish is granted.

NOTE:  the film's narrator is Pulizer-prize winning author Alice Walker;  the cinematographer is Gerald Hoffman (husband of the director).

Next up:  The Patriarch (Mahana) directed by Lee Tamahori

Sunday, March 19, 2017

AfroLatinos: an Untaught History (documentary)

Another of the films that really stood out for me in this year's Pan African Film Festival was the hour-long AfroLatinos: an Untaught History (director:  Renzo Davia).  It's actually the summation of an entire series the Davia is creating - along with producer and co-writer Alicia Anabel Santos - about Afro-Latinos.

And in case you thought Dr. Louis Gates, Jr., was the one who "discovered" the topic of Afro-Latinos (or black Latinos) for North Americans, Davia started work on his film (as I did mine about Afro-Peruvians)  well before Gates' series came out.  That said, Gates series is not only excellent, but has also brought a huge audience to something that was, up until his first release, a small, niche audience of people interested in what seemed at the time an arcane topic.

I've had trouble finding the perfect trailer for AfroLatinos but in this one, the creators give an introduction to the project.  However, they are also asking for funding.

On the other hand, there is a good, 30-minute summation of the series on Vimeo.  However, I'm not allowed to imbed it;  but if you want to watch it on Vimeo, here's the link:

It starts with the provocative question:  "How does history get erased?" and answers by saying that when you fail to tell people who they are and where they come from, you remove their identity and they disappear from history.

That was an important part of my thesis in my earlier documentary, A Zest for Life:  Afro-Peruvian Rhythms - that when talking about Latin jazz, if we don't acknowledge the contributions that Afro-Peruvians have made to it, even while using percussion instruments and rhythms that they created, we essentially negate their existence.

Not surprisingly, in view of my own interests, I found AfroLatinos to be a documentary on a timely topic.  It was also well and thoughtfully made, obviously representing a great deal of research and time spent filming some great interviews, great dances and music, great cultural celebrations.  If you have the opportunity, I do recommend that you go to see it, whether on television (which I think is the ultimate goal) or in a movie theater or on-line.

Next up:  Yamanjá:  Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil (dir. Donna Roberts).

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Triangle: Going to America - a drama from Ethiopia

Staying with feature dramas that I saw in the recent Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Triangle:  Going to America - Sost Meazen (directed by Theodros Teshome Kebede) was a moving tribute to not only Ethiopians but really all people who are forced to leave their country and try to make their was to a safe place.

With all the talk these days about immigrants and refugees, it is a very timely film.

Again, this is a drama, not a documentary, but it is solidly based in reality.  The reality is the perilous journey of those who left Ethiopia (but it could be almost any country) trying to get to the United States.  We don't know much about why these people wanted to leave, but we don't need to.  All we need to know is that there are hundreds of thousands, or in fact, millions, of people these days trying to leave the country of their birth because of various hardships and hoping to get to Western Europe or to the United States.

The film started with a group of about 20 people in a truck crossing a dessert.  We quickly learned that they had recently left their country and had paid money to be smuggled into another country.  (We later learned that the goal was the United States.)

As the film developed, the would-be immigrants encounter various serious problems;  serious enough so that by the end, only four actually make it into the United States.  The rest die in the process.

The filmmaker was there to present the film and he said that in fact, those are the statistics:  only about 20% of the many hundreds of thousands who flee actually live to make it to the country where they hope to live.

A sobering thought.

They die from dehydration and starvation.  They die from fierce sand storms in the desserts.  They die from being killed by smugglers.  The drown trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats.  They die for many reasons, but most of them do die.

In addition, we see that at every stage of the process, there are smugglers with their hands out, asking for thousands of dollars to help them along their journey.  And we see that in many cases, if they don't pay up, they are shot, or left in some inhospitable environment where they will die.

Of course, being a drama, there was a story - the story of the four individuals who, in this fictitious tale, actually made it into the United States.  There was a love angle.  There was strong friendship which helped the four successful ones complete their journey - and the friendship of one of the would-be immigrants willing to be killed to allow the others to achieve their goal.

The film was well acted, and had a real ring of authenticity to it.  It would be hard to leave this movie without feeling that we should be accepting far more, rather than far less, immigrants and refugees.

ADDENDUM:  The director has made a sequel to this movie called Triangle:  the Dream Realized.  Unfortunately, I did not like this sequel as much as the first one which I have reviewed here.


Next up:  AfroLatinos, an Untold History (directed by Renzo Devia).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Vaya, a drama from South Africa

Another really compelling drama that I saw at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles was Vaya (directed by Akin Omòtoso, a filmmaker from Nigeria who also helped produce it).  It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016 - a prestigious film festival, a worthy film.  Here's a TRAILER.

This movie wove together the story of three people from small towns in South Africa who came to Johannesburg by train to accomplish a task:  deliver a young child to her mother, find a job, bring the body of a dead father back to his home town for burial.  Each of these people encounters serious problems in Johannesburg, which obviously is a very, very tough city, especially for young and naive people from the countryside.

I didn't get to see more than 3/4s of this film because I had to leave to be present for the screening of my own work (Masters of Rhythm), and it is a tribute to the filmmaker that it was really, really hard to get up and walk out.  I still want to know how each story ends.

And it was obvious that each story would intersect.  This was skillfully done.

The characters were believable, the situations they got in were believable, it was well acted.

If you get the chance, go see it.  I certainly will - then I'll get to find out the ending!

(Next up:  Triangle:  Going to America)